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Move over Socks: the Clintons acquire a First Dog

It's been a bad winter for First Cats. No sooner has Humphrey been booted out of Number 10, than it is revealed that his American opposite number, Socks, will have to share the White House with a DOG.

Washington is abuzz with the news that the Clintons have decided on the addition to their household of a three-month old puppy.

Said animal, a chocolate-brown labrador-retriever cross, was taken to visit his new owners for their approval last week, spent half an hour undergoing the presidential-compatibility test on the White House lawn, and was then immediately whisked away for training.

The First Dog obedience course, according to the White House, will not - at least in the first instance - be about retrieving President Clinton's golf balls, but rather more basic: "like not on the Oval Office rug', said a White House spokesman.

The arrival of the dog - as yet unnamed - will allow President Clinton to claim his place in a long line of White House dog-owners.

His four predecessors all had dogs - George Bush's late lamented spaniel, Millie, was the most recent First Dog. A First Cat was something of a departure.

In gossip-ridden Washington views differ about the reasons for the new arrival. Are the President and Mrs Clinton pining for their daughter, Chelsea - now in her first year at Stanford University in California - so much that they need another focus for their affections?

Has Chelsea's departure left Socks without a patron sufficiently powerful to protect his interests?

Is the President feeling his age to the point where he is giving up jogging for dog-walking?

Or is he so fed up with his security detail that he is considering alternatives?

The favoured explanation is that the rarefied world of Washington politics and Hillary's whistle-stop world tours may finally be getting to him.

Much quoted over the weekend has been President Harry Truman's quip: "If you need a friend in Washington, get a dog." Well, he just did.

-- Mary Dejevsky